Prokofiev: Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7
PERFORMER: Cleveland Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy
CATALOGUE NO: 443 325-2 DDD
This is a valuable issue in that it brings together the two Prokofiev symphonies commonly held to be widest apart in terms of mood if not style. For once, I find myself disagreeing with Calum MacDonald, whose booklet note toes the usual line that the Sixth is a sombre masterpiece (no one would contradict that), the Seventh ‘a much lighter and more loosely organised score’. Not according to Ashkenazy’s deeply felt performance. This is a world tinged more by sadness than nostalgia – Ashkenazy and his bass-heavy recording underline that right from the start – and one in which sombre ghosts from the Sixth constantly flit across the sparely scored canvas (again the recording emphasises the slightly malevolent trumpet, the unexpected drummings that intrude on the waltz).

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Ironically, the performance of the unequivocally tragic Sixth makes less of an impact; more string power is needed for the first movement’s bitter conflict, more time and space for the acid-edged central Largo to make its mark. Again, though, it’s interesting to compare how Prokofiev brought his respective galop-finales to a close: with a steel fist in the Sixth, a fairy-tale tintinnabulation – Ashkenazy spares us the galop-reprise Prokofiev later tacked on for Stalin-Prize purposes – in the Seventh. David Nice